Corrections or additions?
This article by Bart Jackson was prepared for the May 4, 2005
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Dare to Dream, but to Invest? Scam or Scheme?
by Bart Jackson
The whole thing really felt like a scam. The promise of a free lunch
at Princeton’s elegant Peacock Inn had lured me to taste a 90-minute
lecture on, trite as it sounds, "How You Can Make Money On the
Internet." The envelope, which had unsolicited found its way into my
mailbox, contained photos and earnings figures of just-plain-folks
customers, who, by following the unnamed firm’s simple, easy-to-learn
method were now earning, oh believe it friends, an extra $250,000
annually, or $15,000 a month, and others even a paltry few thousand a
month. (Small print: "these results not typical." Don’t try this at
No exact company title was given, just references to the Internet
Marketing Conference. Taking corporate president Brandon Lewis up on
his offer, I phoned the phone number listed and listened to a recorded
series of testimonials from these honest, bootstrapping American Joes
and Janes who followed the quick-rich path of the seminar and
Internetted their way into the American dream. I must admit I was
pumped after hearing the success stories of folks much dumber but
undeniably much richer than I. Unsure as to whether to don my sneering
cynic’s or mild skeptic’s hat, I decided to attend.
With a greater appetite for food than future cash, (not to mention the
absolutely free personal organizer gift,) I headed out for the Holiday
Inn on Route 1. Oh yes, at the last minute, the venue had changed from
the Peacock to the Holiday, diminishing my culinary hopes. So now I
sat before an aggressively jovial, slick Andy Sherman, who gushed
sincerity and all the right terms. Sherman knew all the trial lawyers’
tricks and used them effectively. He never asked a question to which
he had not cleared the way for an obvious answer. "How many people
here would like to make more money?" "How many would like to be
earning cash for doing what they love?"
Seamlessly he blended a series of success examples in with a series of
questions to which this audience of potential entrepreneurs invariably
found ourselves saying "Yes." PowerPoint displays flew in quick
succession, laced with constant stops for group involvement.
Then, in keeping with the carnival atmosphere, he pulled an old
huckster’s trick and we all watched like rubes. "Who here in this room
is ready and willing to stand up and take control of his own business
future?" Hands flew up. "Good. Okay, Bart. Stand up and look under
your chair." Doing as I was bid, I untapped the crisp $10 bill Sherman
must have placed under my chair, and only my chair, before we arrived.
The lesson to be learned here, I suppose, is not to sit on your
assets. Still, I couldn’t help wondering how he had pulled off that
The atmosphere in the room was one of slightly succumbing skepticism.
The 40-person group seemed a fairly random mix: Six blacks, four
Indian and Asian, a few Hispanics, and I heard definitely two Russian
accents. One demographic stood out however. The majority appeared to
be recent retirement age: ideal for beginning that second career.
Most of the folks with whom I chatted had at least average Internet
dealing experience. Frank, a 60ish Skillman retired consultant, had
sold a few things on eBay and had a son who sold NASCAR parts on line,
but both evidently needed more web effect. Beverly, a retired school
secretary also from Skillman, simply sought a novel and fun way to
pick up some extra money.
Several came with actual websites up, running, but not overly
successful. Kerry (www.kerryzone.com) had established a site pedaling
everything from antiques to E-books and vitamins. He had energy and
skill, but he needed more hits. Frank, No. two had run and sold a
successful site visited by fisherfolk wanting to learn where they were
biting, but now he wanted to move into more exciting ventures. These
people were not suckers. A couple I had talked with had endured the
droning time-share sales pitches to get a free Vegas weekend.
But when it came to parting with their own money, these folks were
indeed careful and skeptical. They were seeking some hard evidence
amid the froth. And gradually, unmistakably, Sherman began to supply
The goal of this 90-minute seminar was, as Sherman stated up front, to
get you to attend the all day workshop given by StoresOnline (the
company’s real name. StoresOnline Inc. I learned in subsequent
material, is located in Orem, Utah, and owned by publicly traded
iMergent Inc. This workshop would arm entrepreneurs with all the tools
they needed to start, run, and advertise their own business. This
short seminar was a teaser, Sherman frankly admitted, but he began to
unfold many of the nuts and bolts methods of Internet selling success.
Diligently, I sat and took notes. From chats with folks like Frank and
Kerry sitting around me, I had already learned that simply having a
site does not guarantee hits. Sherman defined the Alexa rating. This
Internet popularity rating, done by Amazon.com, ranks the top one
percent of websites (all 10 million of them) in order of how many hits
they receive. To even get on this list cries out that your site has
made it. But it seemed as if all of www.StoresOnLine graduate clients
were listed. Flashing a series of overwhelmingly average looking
individuals on screen, Sherman gave the history, and stats of each –
and the very specific tools they employed to make their site and
product stand out.
Diana and Mike, previously employed in general labor and mowing lawns,
became Internet sellers of a series of maps and guide books. Employing
regionalized search engines, they sought out a clientele within 50
miles of their home to which they could deliver goods within two
hours. This interesting niche, allowed by regional tooling, has
created one of StoresOnline’s greatest success stories.
StoresOnline client Steve Knowlan juiced his website up into a 992,692
Alexa rating via an integrated newsletter campaign. Using an
autoresponder system and a fact-filled newsletter that changed every
three weeks, he built customer loyalty for his line of hockey
By means of bid marketing, college student Brian Castleman jumped his
lackluster boot marketing site to an 392,511 Alexa rating and made
$120,000, ’tis claimed, from the August seminar to Christmas. Target
marketing via bid-ranked search engines is similar to, but not exactly
like the old pay-per-click plans, where the website owner pays a
supplier for each click. The trick here is to determine how many hits
turn into a sale and how much a single hit is worth.
All the information began to build. Sherman kept dropping hints on
list ranking: getting your website to come up tops on the search
engine list. I already knew the Google statistic that under 11 percent
of its users ever looked beyond the first page on a given search. By
either linking or wording my site would have to be on that first page.
I felt enticed. Forget the testimonials – this guy’s giving some truly
solid information. This writer indeed did have a certain service he
wanted to market on the Internet. Still my skeptic’s hat was flashing
its warning sign. What was SeminarsOnline getting out of this? Slowly,
more through inference than Sherman’s implication, I got the message.
SeminarsOnline is a website host. The firm designs, publishes, and
maintains websites. It also can connect clients with services of
ordering and fulfillment. It can set you up with the total E-commerce
package. When an order comes in, you don’t have to call the
manufacturer or a warehouse, it’s taken care of. You don’t have to
worry about E-mailing an anvil to Kansas; various agencies will handle
the drop shipping for you.
The whole concept makes enormous niche-marketing sense. SeminarsOnline
swims in the cutthroat seas of hosters who create and maintain
business websites. According to the National Business Index, New
Jersey alone lists 481 established website designer/hosters. This
doesn’t even measure the untold thousands of basement-bound
individuals who provide hosting services.
So the seminars took a new tack: Instead of trying to sell new sites
for existing businesses, most of whom already have sites, why not
create new businesses and deliver websites to those newly in need.
The idea is exciting and fun. Successful online traders, like Sherman
who have made it, now return to launch new hopefuls onto online
careers. The problem comes that building all this semi-captive
clientele costs. All those seminar mailings, free lunches, and
speakers are expenses unincurred by the hungry folk offering thriftier
sites. SeminarsOnline notes that its normal installation for a site is
$2,500, with an first-year maintenance fee of $2,500. (If you attend
the daylong seminar, you can waive the initial set up fee and in the
second year, site maintenance drops to "pennies a day.")
While such costs may have been competitive five years ago, today they
stand out as markedly upper end. Often service providers such as
Comcast offer customers a free website and set up. Web maintenance,
driven downward by the huge supply of hosters, can cost as little as
$5 to $25 a month, from a small but established firm like
www.GoodGeeks.com. The $25 fee affords site owners 1,000 megabytes and
unlimited links – large enough to handle even an Alexa-rated business.
A nice basic web design can be purchased for $200 to $300.
A second downside is that, if the PowerPoint presentation is in any
way representative, StoresOnline websites are fairly pedestrian and
display an unmistakable sameness about them. This may or not be as
important as it seems. As everyone who deals with Internet sales keeps
chanting, the looks of your site are less important than getting a
high placement on Google that leads to high hits. This entails, among
other things, a certain formula of headline and copy content verbiage
that must work well within the provider’s framework.
At last, the lecture came to an end, Sherman had us all give ourselves
a round of applause and the lunch was delivered. I hefted my thick,
tasty turkey sandwich off the paper plate and began chewing on the
possibilities. Sherman had cleverly gotten us all salivating for the
two-week-hence seminar; then sticker-shocked us with "the regular
price" of $2,500, then rebuilt our financial fantasies with a
this-time-only discount price of $30. "Isn’t your entire future worth
one day’s investment?" he was asking.
I pondered. I was already marketing some of my services on the side
and every client was loving it. This certainly might be the way to get
the word out with the minimal life distraction. On the other hand, did
I want my days to become devoured by the mad pursuit of money? There
was no obligation – just some intriguing knowledge (and another deli
lunch.) I’m such a technodufus, but truly, my mother raised a smarter
son than these "successful marketers" touted in the lecture.
Finally, wolfing the last of my coleslaw from the paper cup, I turned
to Kerry, who was also eying the sign up table. With the $10 I had
already found under my chair, it would cost $20 for the day long
seminar. I stood up and said, "Aw what, the heck, Kerry, Let’s do it.
It may be fun."
P.S. Look for www.BartSellsAll.com coming soon on the next Alexa
rating list – and on the driver’s side door of my stretch limo.
Editor’s note: Jackson did go to the second session. He estimates
that, of the 200 people there, probably 10 percent purchased the
company’s service. He did not.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.